There is a deep sense of anxiety around the Statehouse these days as people in high places get ready for the next shoe to drop. The first shoe, of course, was the resignation of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard three weeks ago, when he pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws. After much squirming and sweating, Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell stepped up to the job he had always said he did not want but that the state constitution directed that he must fill.
Then came the next surprise. If it wasn't exactly a shoe drop, maybe it was a sock. Lt. Gov. McConnell announced — to the surprise of many, including me — that he intended to fill out the full term of the state's No. 2 job and would not be resigning to run for his old Senate seat again in November.
Almost immediately, speculation began to bubble — and my e-mail inbox began to fill — with the question: Does McConnell intend to run for governor against Nikki Haley in 2014?
There are compelling reasons why he would, not the least of which is the fact that he and Haley apparently don't like each other very much. Last year, he took her to court to stop her from calling the General Assembly back for a special session, and he is still fighting to reverse the decision of the Haley-appointed Department of Health and Environmental Control board to allow the State of Georgia to dredge the Savannah River.
Replacing Haley would be sweet revenge, the speculation goes, and since McConnell has already lost the job he most loved and the job that was infinitely more powerful than the lieutenant governor's ceremonial role, why not shoot for the top?
He could have it if he wanted it. McConnell is one of the most popular politicians in the state — both in the Legislature and on the street. Haley, by contrast, has made several stunning missteps and overreaches, and her popularity has plummeted.
Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who came close to beating Haley in the gubernatorial race two years ago, seems ready to run again. He would have an excellent chance of knocking her off in a rematch, but McConnell would be a hero to the GOP if he removed the threat of a Democratic win by defeating Haley in the GOP primary. With the exception of U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, nobody — Democrat or Republican — could defeat Glenn McConnell in a statewide election.
This is the scenario I have heard described in recent days, and it sounds plausible enough. Some people even thought the next shoe was about to drop — specifically, that Haley would be the next to take the perp walk from the Statehouse.
John Rainey, a longtime Republican activist and former chairman of the state Board of Economic Advisers, had brought a suit against the governor, accusing her of a host of improprieties and illegalities relating to lobbying and private jobs she held while a member of the state House of Representatives.
"Haley exploited her public office for personal financial gain by trading on her influence and office to benefit corporations that were paying her money," the lawsuit alleged.
Rainey did not get a chance to prove his case. His complaint was dismissed last week.
"Alleged violations of the Ethics Code ... are exclusively within the subject matter jurisdiction of the State Ethics Commission or the Legislative Ethics Committees, not the circuit court," a Richland County judge ruled.
Nothing was settled, and the charges still hang over Haley's head. There are now rumors that the FBI is looking into her finances. Closer to home, Haley's case is before the House ethics committee. If they find cause to pass it to the attorney general's office (and they would almost have to), then Haley is toast. Attorney General Alan Wilson would make short work of her. He has already brought down a corrupt lieutenant governor. Now he could do the same with a corrupt governor. In the process, he would set himself up as a giant slayer and clean-government crusader. How far he could ride that pony remains to be seen.
How close are we to Haley's ouster? We probably won't see it coming until it happens. We didn't know that the end was so close for Ken Ard. On March 8, he was presiding over the state Senate on a quiet Thursday afternoon. The next morning he wrote his resignation letter to Gov. Haley, went down to the courthouse, and fell on his sword. Could it come that quickly for Haley? If it does, guess who the next governor will be. That's another job McConnell said he had no interest in, but it has a lot more power and perks than the one he now holds.
This state never ceases to amaze me.